Grace Community Church of Riverside: To take Jesus Christ to lost people and lost people to Jesus Christ

Book Review by Pastor Brian Smith, 5/20/11

“Heaven Is For Real,” which remained #1 on the New York Times’ bestsellers list as of May 19, 2011, has sold more than 4 million copies and is still picking up momentum.  This book is easy to read and at times quite stirring.  In contrast to other books of its kind, it is about a real Christian family that loves the Lord Jesus Christ and is committed to honoring and serving Him.  Many have been inspired after reading their story. 

“Heaven Is For Real” tells of 3-year-old Colton Burpo’s experience in Heaven.  It is written by his father, Pastor Todd Burpo, 6 years after the fact as he recollects the things his son told him about Heaven while under anesthesia during emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix.

The question that must be answered is simply this, “Did 3-year-old Colton Burpo visit Heaven?”  If he did, then any reservations anyone might have about this book are mute.  If he didn’t, then how can some of his experiences be explained, such as meeting a deceased sister he knew nothing about, meeting his grandfather whom he had never seen, seeing his mother talking on a cell phone and his father praying on his knees while he was in surgery?

In Acts 17:11, we are told that the Bereans searched the Scriptures daily “to see if what (Paul) said was true.”  If the Bereans hesitated to trust the words of Paul, but evaluated his claims of Jesus being the Jewish Messiah in light of the Old Testament Scriptures, how much more do we today need to search the New Testament Scriptures to determine whether the claims of a 3-year-old boy being in Heaven are legitimate?

Three individuals in the New Testament Scriptures experienced Heaven and lived to tell about it.  The first individual was Stephen.  As Stephen was being martyred for his faith, he looked up into Heaven and saw “the Son of Man (Jesus) standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).  The second individual to experience Heaven was the Apostle Paul.  Paul was actually transported to Heaven (“out of body” or “in the body” even Paul didn’t know) where he “heard inexpressible things, which a man is not permitted to speak” (2 Corinthians 12:3-4).  But the most definitive experience of Heaven was by the Apostle John while in prison on the Island of Patmos.  His visions were clearly “out-of-body” experiences (his physical body remained on earth while his “spirit” was transported to Heaven—Revelation 1:10).

There were three specific time periods of Heaven that John visited.  First, he visited the present Heaven where he described a “white haired” Jesus with feet of “burnished bronze” and “flaming eyes” standing among “seven golden lampstands” (Revelation 1:9-20).  Second, John visited the future Heaven of the 7-year Tribulation (Revelation chapters 4-5; 11:19; 15:5-8).  And finally, John visited the Heaven of eternity (Revelation 21:1 - 22:5).

As John concluded his visions of Heaven, he recorded the final words of Jesus on that subject, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:  if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of this book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).

So, do Colton Burpo’s observations in Heaven “add to” or “take away” from the Scriptures?

I preface my conclusions by stating that either ALL of Colton Burpo’s experiences are true or NONE of them are true.  A counterfeit $20 bill only has to have one flaw to make it worthless; flaws do not diminish its value to $19 or to $12; any and all flaws make it worthless.  If Colton actually did go to Heaven, then EVERYTHING he saw should correspond with something already recorded in the Scriptures. 

In brief, the details of young Colton’s experience in Heaven that either “add” or “take away” from the Scripture are:

  • The Virgin Mary standing next to Jesus in Heaven
  • God the Father having a human body
  • Angels with halos
  • Angels singing “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho” but refusing to sing “We Will Rock You”
  • Christians with wings (according to Colton, Jesus was the only one in Heaven without wings)
  • Miscarried babies remaining as “nameless” children waiting for their parents to come to Heaven to name them
  • Large numbers of little children in Heaven doing homework
  • Rainbow-colored horses in Heaven

In addition, Colton recognizes a painting of Jesus done by Akiane Kramink, a 12-year-old girl from Idaho.  She, like Colton, has claimed to have gone to Heaven and visited with Jesus.  Colton immediately recognized Jesus in her painting (the painting is included in the book.  Jesus looks more European than Semitic and a little too handsome to fit with Isaiah’s prophecy, “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him”—Isaiah 53:2).

Jesus purposefully did NOT allow a painting or a statue to be made of Him.  He did not want people to worship an icon.  In fact, the 2nd Commandment in the Decalogue clearly states that “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:3).  Jesus, instead, left behind the Communion service (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and John 13) in which He stated “Do this in remembrance of Me.”

So, in conclusion, Colton Burpo did not visit Heaven.

How then can his extraordinary experiences be explained?  I don’t know.  But the evidence of divine revelation is not the number or magnitude of unexplainable experiences.

I do not question the sincerity of Colton Burpo or of his parents.  I will take at face value that what Colton experienced, what his parents heard from him, and then what his father recorded (6 years later with uncanny recall) were exactly as documented in “Heaven Is For Real.”  My argument is NOT against Colton’s experience, but rather that what Colton experienced was Heaven.

How do I know Heaven is for real? 

I believe Heaven is for real because the Bible tells me it is.  Jesus said this about Heaven, “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

I accept those words of Jesus by faith.

The Apostle Paul also believed in Heaven by faith.  He said this to the Christians in the city of Corinth, “Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in this body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8).

It was that kind of faith that provided hope to the great patriarchs and matriarchs of the Old Testament.  The writer of Hebrews said of them, “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth…but as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one…” (Hebrews 11:13, 16). 

If Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob “looked for the city which has foundations whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10), and yet they saw it “only from a distance” (i.e., by faith), why would God allow 3-year-old Colton Burpo of Nebraska and 12-year-old Akiane Kramirik of Idaho to be the lone exceptions?

For a biblically accurate book about Heaven, I recommend “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn (Tyndale Publishing).

Heaven is for Real